A teleological account on assertion: Kant and Dummett

This paper shows some ways to deepen Dummett's conception of assertion thanks to Kant's moral doctrine in order to exhibit the moral and teleological value behind the act of assertion.
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  1 A teleological account on assertion: Kant and Dummett   § 1. Dummett on teleological feature of the language In the tenth chapter of Frege Philosophy of Language, called “Assertion”  , Dummett engaged in tracing the significant difference between the naturalistic and the teleological theories about language. The relevance of this difference is based on important aspects: firstly a critical consideration of Frege ’s  reflection about assertive act 1  and secondly, on showing an established criterion that must characterize a theory on the language which needs to be correct. As Dummett (1973: 295) writes, commenting on Frege ’s Über Sinn und Bedeutung : «The notions of sense and reference do not suffice for a complete account of language. If we know of a language only what sense the expressions which occur in it have, and thereby their references, we know nothing which can tell us the significance of uttering an expression of this language: the  point   of doing so.» Continuing his argument, Dummett conducts a hypothetical experiment in which he imagines an intelligent alien race who does not use any known form of communication includeding natural language: «Suppose for instance that some Martians observe human beings (remaining themselves unobserved). Among other human activities is the use of language. We will suppose that these Martians have some method of communicating with one another, but that this method is so unlike human language that they do not recognize this as an instrument of communication. […] They wish to arrive at a theory of human language by means of which they can interpret our linguistic activities. » These Martians wish to fully comprehend the language and how it influences our form of life. There are two possible ways in which aliens can make our linguistic practice intelligible. First, they can elaborate a naturalistic theory which gives the highest role to notions like “cause” and “effect” as we do in our Physics theories. From this point of view, they are interested in recognizing our linguistic practice by considering it in relation to our behavioral activities. Considering this kind of theory (Dummett, 1973: 295-296): If the Martians know about our language only what the senses of its expressions are, they know only that, when a certain complete expression is uttered, there is a particular means for recognizing an object (or truth- value) to be associated with that expression as its ‘referent’; but as one might say, the do not know what anyone is doing in uttering that expression. Their account does not yet constitute a theory of language, because it only gives a certain complex procedure for associating certain object with certain expressions; it does not go on describe any observable regularities to which use of language conforms in terms of the association which has been set up. For this reason it is powerless either to explain why human beings make certain utterances at certain times, or to assign further events as the consequences of such utterances. […] we must remember that the account in terms of sense and reference merely assigns every sentence, all of whose parts possess a reference, to one or two arbitrarily labelled classes, true sentences and false sentences, in accordance with the rules which govern the component words of the sentence and constitute their sense. […] there is nothing in the theory of sense and reference, taken by itself, to distinguish one truth-value from the other. 1  See Frege (1879).  2 In any case these difficulties led Dummett to consider a second kind of explanatory theory, which has to be a teleological theory. He uses another enlightening example (: 681): «Supposing that an anthropologist observes people of an alien culture engaging in some complicated co-operative activity. Its nature eludes him: is it a game? A religious ritual? A decision-making process? Perhaps it is none of these: perhaps it does not fall squarely into any category with which we are familiar. He will strive to make sense of it, to render it intelligible to himself as a rational activity: to discover what exactly would count as engaging in that activity correctly; what subsequent consequences it has, if any; what role it plays in the life of the community.» The example of the anthropologist shows that to make sense of phenomena which consist of mutual and common interactions between intentional subjects, we naturally tend to use intentional notions, such as the purpose for which those particular interactions take place and how they take place. We do not need a physical explanation to clarify how some dynamics of interaction are possible: what we need is to understand the rationality of that co-operative activity, from the view point of its aim. Without this practical level of understanding and exclusively concentrating on the senses and the references of the linguistic expressions, we will miss the point of its rationality and the genuine meaning of the activity. For example, we would not declare that someone understands the activity of playing chess if he does not know that the aim of the game is to win. Dummett (: 297) very clearly explains this aspect: «Now, just as it is possible to describe to someone what it is to play chess without presupposing that he understands what winning is, and therefore that he already understands some similar activity, so it should be possible to describe the activity of using language without presupposing that it is already known what significance it has to call one class of se ntences the class of ‘true’ sentences and the other the class of ‘false’ sentences; this feature to be expressly described, is not contained in the characterization of our language in terms of sense and reference.» All these explanatory examples show the need to consider our linguistic activities from a teleological point of view, abandoning Frege ’s  analysis based only on the notions of “sense” and “reference” 2 . In the next section, I will dwell up on the notion of “truth”, trying to underline its epistemic  relativity and its moral value. § 2. The notion of “truth” : epistemic relativity and moral value Contemporary reflections, in the main, agree about considering truth as a relevant property, which belongs mainly to our token-sentences (truth-bearers). Therefore, we can affirm the truth in relation to a proposition clearly located in a temporal and spatial context but not about propositions that are orphan of those coordinates. If we focus our attention on a limited aspect of our linguistic practice, the assertoric one, we can also find another fundamental point of agreement between modern scholars: a golden rule about assertoric practice should be the right of public audience to approve or criticize the propositional content uttered by the assertor. In other words, if someone says something with assertoric force, he has also the duty of bringing solid arguments in order to justify or legitimate what he assertorically said. The truth plays the role of the normative criterion which presides over this linguistic phenomenon: I can be criticized if I say something which is denied by part of the community, because they can show I lied. 2  By defending Frege, we have to state that, in his works, he was not so much interested in explaining the linguistic activity from a practical point of view as he was in defining the correct logical inferences and structures, in order to give a solid ground to some fundamental mathematical notions and theorems.  3 The diversified panorama which is shown by our everyday experience of the language leads us to consider the plain justification about the content of our assertoric practice. We can say something assertorically in many epistemic contexts. For example, someone can ask me the time of the next bus. My answer, if correct, can be justified simply by consulting the bus time table, and this is enough. It is not so simple in much more sophisticated epistemic contexts: if I am going to produce a mathematical theorem, I must produce a logical mathematical demonstration, solid proof capable of convincing the smartest and most rigorous mathematician. The group of people interested in bus times gives me an easier task than the group of mathematicians. We can also compare more epistemic contexts in order to explain their differences, often critical. 3  In all these contexts we must also consider other linguistic aspects: the degree of vagueness which can be tolerated, the acceptability of indirect proof and other complications affecting the practical sphere of language that can invalidate the correct justification. The rigorous definition of these epistemic fields of justification belongs to the theory of knowledge, which must also include a theory of scientific method. What matters, with regards to us, it is solely the fact that, in spite of the large and varied set of epistemic contexts of justifications, we retain the consideration about the truth as an undeniable value. Truth as a value works in every context. My suggestion is that truth, as a value, has a primitive moral characterization. I will show it through some examples. At the end of the Second World War, John von Neumann calculated the mode which would allow the maximum destructive power of the nuclear weapons once launched on Japanese cities. Thanks to the high quality level of calculi, von Neumann said like “ in order to maximize damage the best height above sea level from which to launch the bombs is  x  meters ”. Hitler, in  Mein Kampf  , wrote many sentences that surely influenced German people in following him on his anti-Semite persecution policies. A person who refuses to give important information to the enemy, even when brutally tortured, is often called “hero”. On the other hand, someone who breaks the code of silence in mafia trials is often rewarded with a reduction of their sentence by magistrates, or punished through assassination by mobsters. Insults are often expressed by assertions but they are also bad actions with evil intentions behind them. All these examples show the relevance of acting through true, false or omitted assertions in the moral sphere. One objection naturally arises: following this path, we lost the semantic relevance of assertoric practice. We were concentrated on the moral aspects disregarding the epistemic aspects. An early answer to this objection could be to state that saying something assertorically is already an act. Like conscious and intentional acts assertoric acts also include a moral responsibility, independently from epistemic and semantic considerations. Therefore, truth has an undeniable value in epistemic contexts, but this value has also a moral aspect, since truth plays a fundamental role in organizing our common experience and objectives. Especially those that are based on scientific practices. Obviously I am not going to state that the objects and the facts that we can scientifically analyze have a moral characterization in themselves but moreover that necessarily epistemic contexts have links with moral scenarios when those contexts become relevant for our actions. So there are no moral issues in nuclear processes or other phenomena but there is moral relevance in some of their uses based on knowledge , like von Neumann’s example showed.  Now we can pacifically assume that not necessarily every promising scientific theories is immediately linked to moral scenario, and this is 3  I would like us to remember for example , some limitative results about truth and its epistemic approach. First, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem (1931), which demonstrated that, de jure , not every mathematical assertion can become a theorem, even if it is true. This demonstrates that the notion of truth is always elusive, especially in fundamental contexts. Secondly, Tarsky’s undefinability theorem about truth. This theorem, as with the previous one, rigorously exhibits that elusive feature of truth. Moreover, Wittgenstein (1961) believed that there is nothing genuinely problematic about truth, which is a redundant predicate uselessly attached to an assertion. See also Cellucci (2008: 77-92), for a skeptical account about the use of notion of truth in the theory of knowledge. Like any other fundame ntal notions in philosophy, “truth” does not cease to be problematic, srcinating many different points of view.  4 particularly true for abstract theories, or unverified ones, or a consistent set of hypothesis, but we are facing assertoric context a nd not “ if-it-was- true” ones. The world and its phenomena are silent about what we must do but what we have to do belongs to the world and its phenomena. Therefore, when the notion of “true” plays a role in the forming of a basis for our actions that role is not only epistemic but also moral. These traits are not incompatible, as I will try to show in the following sections. § 3. Kant on truth as value and the doctrine of the  Faktum der Vernunft   There is no doubt that, in particular cases like von Neumann, some assertoric utterances are true. Therefore a serious problem arises: how can we combine the intuitive fact that von Neumann’s result was correct with the fact that the intention behind those results and their proof can be considered as evil? Considering truth as a desirable value, we can carry out some in-depth research accomplishing an analysis about Kantian thought. Referring to Kantian notion of “interest”  (  Interesse ), we can get a significant philosophical advantage. This notion, which possess the supremacy in Kantian system, is capable of subsumption between epistemic practices and moral ones. Therefore, epistemic practices indirectly assume a value, i.e. by virtue of the unity of reason, which is the lawmaker in a practical-moral field, thanks to the doctrine of the Faktum der Vernunft  . This doctrine explains how all knowledge which can be applied is not morally legitimated if its use upholds a particular sphere of interests. In other words, the autonomy of moral law cannot tolerate actions referred to the principle of self-regard. Therefore, uttering assertions following the principle of self-regard is not moral. In von Neumann’s example, the predicate d “truth” referred to in the sentence “ in order to maximize damage the best height above sea level from which to launch the bombs is  x   meters”  works only like an empty label for a means suitable for defending a proper partition of humankind. If we all agree in considering truth like a universal value and we also agree in considering truth as a property of linguistic act subjected to public control, we must also necessarily consider these themes. Kantian meta-ethics is particularly fitted to embrace those points of agreement: it offers significant guaranties about two important aspects. Firstly, it points out the practical component of the language deputed to organize our common life; secondly, by means of the doctrine of Faktum der Vernunft  , does not conceptually admit any linguistic actions in favor of a partition of humankind as moral actions. An universal normative criterion annihilates every particular ones. Kant clearly underlines (1999: 166) this aspect in Theorem IV   of Critique of practical reason : «Autonomy of the will is the sole principle of all moral laws and of duties in keeping with them; heteronomy of choice, on the other hand, not only does not ground any obligation at all but is instead opposed to the principle of obligation and to the morality of the will.» Therefore, in order to establish an unified theory of language which also pays attention to its practical sphere, we cannot ignore the link between truth as an epistemic and worthy property and truth as a practical value. The public feature of truth clearly appears if we consider the following mental experiment. Imagine a man who is completely isolated. This abstract theoretical agent has to deal with phenomena of the world in which he lives alone. It is seriously questionable that such a-priori Robinson Crusoe, entirely occupied in dealing with the world and knowing it in order to satisfy his needs, can develop a notion similar to “truth”. There is no doubt that he can identify the best cognitions in order to obtain the objects of his interest: this already implies a certain normality. However, it is questionable that, in such extreme conditions, this theoretical agent can have the necessity of developing the notion of truth. Moreover, he cannot develop language (where that notion expresses itself) either. Certainly, he could develop what we could call quasi-propositions or quasi-inferences, but also form a different  5 lifestyle from us holding these faculties: chimpanzees know perfectly well that they need a stone to break the coconut. If attributing to the language the function of organizing our interactive life - also thanks to criticizable assertions - is correct, it is difficult to understand how this man can develop linguistic abilities, since he is not identified within a social dimension. This mental experiment is useful to underline the public value of language, which is also the field where the notion of truth can be developed, expressed and understood. A deeper analysis will be conducted in the next section, where I will show how the doctrine of Faktum  can be combined with the arguments of the third Critique . § 4. Kantian arguments in Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgment . One of the aspects that led Kant to write a third essay was the consideration on the “Ends of nature” (  Naturzwecke ), i.e. organisms and their contingency. By insisting with the Critique of Pure Reason , there was no form of contingency, because the first Critique  presented only phenomena that were exhaustively explained by that form of judgment which Kant called determining judgment ( bestimmende Urteilskraft  ) 4 . However, the specificity of organisms, i.e. the fact that their roles are both cause and effect for each other, suggests univocally a different and epistemically weaker form of judgment, that is the reflecting one ( reflektierende Urtailskraft) . As is written in Critique of power of Judgment (2002 : 242): «In order to see that a thing is possible only as an end, i.e., that the causality of its srcin must be sought not in the mechanism of nature, but in a cause whose productive capacity is determined by concepts, it is necessary that its form not be possible in accordance with mere natural laws, i.e., ones that can be cognized by us through the understanding, applied to objects of the senses, alone; rather even empirical cognition of their cause and effect presupposes concepts of reason. » Anyway, this discovery pierces the homogenous transcendental tissue that the first Critic  wrote. This transcendental discovery forced Kant to find a synthesis between the determining order and the reflecting one. Both are forms of the Power of Judgment, so their link lies on the inner ground of our intelligence. In other words, the contingency we discovered, which starts with the teleological considerations of organisms (human beings included), reflects itself on the consideration on the whole world which is no longer homogeneous. Determining judgment is no longer enough to totally explain ( erklären ) the area of the possible experience. This is only the first step we have to take. Some past philosophers, like Spinoza, attempted to avoid the problem, glossing over its genuineness, but this was a mistake (:264): On the other hand, Spinoza would suspend all inquiry into the ground of the possibility of the ends of nature and deprive this idea of all reality by allowing them to count not as products of an srcinal being but as accidents inhering in it, and to this being, as the substratum of those natural things, he ascribes not causality with regard to them but merely subsistence, and (on account of the unconditional necessity of this being, together with all natural things as accidents inhering in it), he secures for the natural forms the unity of the ground that is, to be sure, requisite for all purposiveness, but at the same 4  This is not correct at all. In the first Critique , Kant was conscious of the role or reason, that has to be necessarily regulative, even if not constitutive. In this sense, Critique of the Power of Teleological Judgment   can be considered as an extension of  Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic . See also Marcucci (1997, :113), which quotes Scaravelli (1954, :387) and Schrader (1953-1954, : 205). In order to obtain a proven account of the logical status of reflecting judgment and the links between first Critique  and the  Critique of the Power of Judgment  , see Capozzi (2011, :22-33).
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